left: 1st DUI (April 14, 2014) right: 2nd DUI (October 14, 2014)

left: 1st DUI (April 14, 2014)
right: 2nd DUI (October 14, 2014)

“You can’t fix me,” Mom said while holding my hand and a single tear running down her eye.

“But, I’ve tried Mom, dear God have I tried!” I said realizing the power of her words, her stare, and allowing the truth of what she said to wash over me like a wave crashing into a cliff.

For a moment, I was breathless and speechless.

I didn’t know what to say, but I knew she was right.

For most of my adult life, and even some of my childhood,  I have always been a momma’s boy. I’ve always protected her, fought for her, and believed the best about her, even when the best didn’t turn out to be so good.

In turn, she’s always done the same for me. She’s always seen the best in me, fought for me, and protected me at all costs–even her own comforts.

Yet, like generation entitled, I didn’t appreciate any of it.

“You’re a worthless mom!” I’d scream at her in a bipolar rage and throw a fit worthy of a 3 year old. I could see the pain in her eyes as such words were hurtful and seemed to pour out of me with ease. I hated the ease with which these words came out of my mouth.

But, while writing this, I’ve realized that I am two completely separate, yet, co-existing people. I am good and I am evil. I have the propensity for both in me; my light can be the brightest and my darkness and can be the darkest.

You, too, can shine the brightest light or exude the darkest darkness.

Don’t believe me? Strip everything away: your prestige, power, income, looks, etc. Take it all away and see what comes out.

For me, I saw my dark self  in jail, during the most depressing moment of my life. I was also withdrawing from medication so the jail could save some money. Just because I broke the law doesn’t mean I deserve any less care as a human. The experience of stopping all of my meds, but one, was damning enough then add the stress of being incarcerated on top of it.

How about now? Well now, I like to think I see the lighter side of me. Of course, I still struggle with bipolar agitation, racing thoughts, anxiety, depression, etc., but I’m much calmer.

I’ve been reminded that I am only responsible for a single person’s decisions, choices, and behaviors at all times–mine. This has taken me back to a time in my life where I literally only had myself to depend on.

I’ve been thinking about jail a lot lately, about how losing my freedom is helping me find it.

I suppose it’s due to the change in the weather. It feels like fall outside. You can smell the impending change in the air. I love it and, yet, it brings back a host of memories.

On, October 14, 2014, I entered the North Central Regional Jail in Doddridge County, WV.

On December 24, 2014, I exited the jail and smelled outdoor air for the first time since my incarceration. I remember that first step towards freedom.

Freedom is a process, not a one-time event.

Freedom is often practiced daily. 

Freedom has come with a great cost, both financially and personally, but here’s what I’ve learned so far:

Freedom is stepping outside daily, even if it’s for a 10-minute walk. I didn’t see the outside for 3 long months.

Freedom is setting boundaries with others in my life, because in jail, it didn’t matter when or where, you could be searched, accused, or taken advantage of at any time. I treasure my boundaries because they help me feel safe.

Freedom is knowing that I can’t do life by myself and that I must be willing to ask for help. A wonderful example is of my step-mother incessantly calling my court appointed lawyer who kept saying each week, “well, maybe next month” and my step-mom called all day, every day until my case was heard. Freedom is realizing (and being open t0) help from unexpected places, because what I haven’t told you is that she and I had a rocky relationship for many years. Yet, she fought for me at my lowest point.

Freedom is being willing to make the best out of an awful situation. I played chess, talked with guys about wrestling, God, and movies. I drank the worst coffee in the world (think brown cocaine in a cup) and even did some things I’m not proud of, simply to survive.

Freedom is owning it all: the good and the bad. Freedom is acknowledging the mistakes that brought you to that place and using your freedom to make new decisions and choices to avoid ever going back.

Freedom is using your darkest hours to create your highest good. This is true freedom because you realize that the worst part of your story isn’t the final part of your story.

For me, freedom was and is lived each and every day, in my determination to make the best out of the worst.

As Viktor Frankl said in his book,  A Man’s Search for Meaning “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

I had to be incarcerated to realize that my freedom was taken from me long before I set foot inside a cell.

My freedom was given away to a company, some friends, some family, a God that I didn’t even like or think was real. My freedom was always wrapped up in approval. I wanted (and still do, mostly) to be accepted, liked, and appreciated.

But when I was taken away from everything, with nothing more than myself, my God, and the cast of characters around me, I survived.

Some of you probably need reminded today that you’ve survived something. You’ve journeyed through a personal hell  and have come out on the other side. You’re broken, scratched-up, and even a little wounded. However, depsite all the trouble and pain,  you can look back and see the darkness and look forward and see the light of hope shining brighter than ever. You’ve survived. Let that sink in for a moment.

There’s hope in those words: you’ve survived.

You’re still here. It didn’t conquer you. It won’t conquer you. You have and will continue to survive.

After I was released, I was placed on three months house arrest.

Sometimes, I still feel imprisoned in my home, because I  did time here.  I start thinking crazy thoughts, feeling the walls closing in, and my breath feels like it’s being ripped from my lungs, but in that moment, I step outside. I step and take one deep breath and hear the word “freedom” in my mind and echoed in my heart. I’m reminded that freedom is always a choice and, one, that I must choose daily.

Never again will I be robbed of the outdoors, at least by my own doing. Never again, will I hand my freedom away so easily to another.

I had to remind myself of this today and want to remind you, dear reader.

You are free to choose, free to live, and free to thrive. Don’t ever let that be taken from you (at least willingly).

May freedom embrace your heart, mind, and soul today.

Be well my friends,

Dan

 

PS: For anyone who enjoys posting the shaming photos of “criminals” from your town, city, or area, please keep in mind the words an officer told me on my way to court, “Hey Six. You’re not a bad guy, I can tell. You’re a good guy who just got caught. We all make mistakes, you just happened to get caught.”

I used to be the one who posted the shaming mugshots of people and three years later I was behind those same bars. Pride comes before a fall…